Curing Type 1 Diabetes at the Molecular Level
Thank you to the Lyfebulb team for hosting another engaging event last month (June 2015)! I was intrigued to learn about some leading technological advances in diabetes research, from speakers Dr. Jeffrey Friedman and Mr. Mike Moradi.
As a molecular genetics scientist, Dr. Friedman spoke about a hormone he has identified, leptin, which balances food intake and maintains body weight. He discussed the potential for this hormone in improving the lives of people with diabetes:
“In 1994, we identified… a new hormone called leptin. Leptin is part of a feedback loop that maintains constancy of your weight… If you lose weight, leptin level falls and that’s a stimulus to eat more. If you gain weight, leptin rises and that’s a stimulus to eat less. And by this mechanism, body weight is maintained in a narrow range.
We realized pretty early that leptin could also affect glucose metabolism. And… there’s one aspect of this, having to do with type 1 diabetes that I’d like to tell you about:
“An investigator in Texas, named Roger Unger… did an experiment. He took a type 1 diabetic animal that made no insulin whatsoever…. [The] animals in the experimental group, are end stage type1 diabetic animals. [Without medication]… they’re all dead within a month. In one group, he just gives them saline. In the other group, he gives them leptin. The leptin treated group… lives for as long as he gives the animal leptin.
So leptin, by that criteria, appears to have miraculous curative powers… and might have some utility either as a treatment or an adjunct for type 1 diabetes.
“If you could use leptin as a therapy for type 1 diabetes, you might diminish the needs for insulin, you might blunt hypoglycemia… Leptin doesn’t need insulin to work. Whatever it’s doing is independent of insulin altogether.”
Dr. Friedman’s story strikes me as a refreshingly informed new direction for clinical research. I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for almost thirty years, and I’m accustomed to hearing that there’s a “new cure” for me to look into. I get these recommendations from concerned acquaintances who mean well, but who don’t understand the true indications of the information that they’re referring to.
Another captivating speaker at this event was Mike Moradi, the CEO of Sensulin. He discussed the development of a new type of insulin, which would be taken once daily and respond directly to glucose detected in the blood. He explained that the molecules of this insulin are built in layers, like an onion. Glucose that is present in the blood helps disintegrate the outer layer, exposing insulin and stabilizing the blood sugar. Then the next time the patient eats and more glucose is introduced, more layers dissolve. This allows for more insulin to be released into the blood stream, and once again stabilizes glucose levels.
On the Sensulin website (http://www.sensulin.com/), Mr. Moradi discusses this process in more detail:
“Lipozomes encapsulate the insulin. They are cross-linked with a glucose responsive linker… So you have these tiny connecting entities that, when a patient eats and their blood sugar becomes elevated, the free glucose in their subcutaneous space binds to that linker, [and] opens up that channel which has a much higher surface area for releasing insulin… It’s a really elegant chemical solution to a rather large problem.”
Glucose-responsive insulin seems to have a lot of potential for people with diabetes. It could eliminate the need for constant blood tests, insulin shots, and glucose tablets. Sensulin claims to offer us “a substantial improvement in the standard of care and chance at a normal life.”
Like most people with diabetes, I’d be hesitant to switch off of the medical therapies that I know and trust. But with a few years of successful research, some reassuring patient trials, and a significant amount of positive reviews, I’d be game to try. In that event, these might become my new favorite scientific discoveries of the 21st century.